I’m always interested in hearing about people’s motivation to write. That’s why I was particularly happy to chat with children’s author Lorraine Johnston for this week’s Lockdown Book Blog.
|Read more about Lorraine's books on her website|
I end the video call still laughing. Desperate for a coffee after an hour and a half of chat, but still laughing. Lorraine Johnston seems to have a bottomless Santa sack of entertaining anecdotes, yet she doesn’t shy away from the serious side of life. There’s something about her that compels – and merits – attention. She has an indefatigable joie de vivre and a quiet confidence that comes through in real life interactions and very much so in everything she writes.
Lorraine is the author of four picture books. Two are already published and the third and fourth are due for release soon. Later Tartan Gator originally appeared in 2013 in New Orleans, where it’s set. A new ‘Special Edition’ has recently been re-written and a small print run of 500 copies was produced last August. It’s available in various local shops and is selling well through her website, with some copies even travelling back to New Orleans. A story about an alligator living in the city’s Audubon Zoo, who has a colourful reaction to something he’s eaten, Later Tartan Gator is witty and charming. It features adorable characters, affectionately illustrated, and is an excellent demonstration that diversity can be the norm in picture book publishing. £1 for every copy of the new UK edition is donated to Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance.
Two years ago, Lorraine wrote – and gifted – a story called Whit of Whiteley’s Wood. Illustrated by Mandy Sinclair, it again features absolutely endearing characters. What seems at first glance a simple story about a young owl who takes a tumble while learning to fly soon materialises as a storyline that shows kindness, friendship, teamwork, and empathy. It’s light-hearted but full of love and engenders and encourages resilience. Don’t take my word for it. Lorraine reads the story on Youtube here Astonishingly, Lorraine has gifted 100% of proceeds to Whiteleys Retreat in Ayrshire – a charity that provides free therapeutic short breaks for children, young people and their families with cancer and life altering illnesses.
Lorraine conceives each storyline, writes it, finds wonderful illustrators, and oversees each production. She has successfully placed her books in shops and has particularly appreciated the support in sales at the wonderful Foggie Toddle Books in Wigtown.
Forthcoming soon is a new adventure picture book featuring a Scottish mole.
|MacMoley Collectible |
available from www.heartfeltbyliz.com
‘MacMoley Moves Home’ is illustrated by Jane Cornwell and – again – Lorraine has arranged for £1 from each book sold to go to charity. This time, for the Scottish Wildlife Trust. You can even purchase a limited edition ‘MacMoley Collectible’ hand made by celebrated Textile Artist and felt maker Liz Gaffney.
I'm really curious as to what makes Lorraine so committed to charitable giving through her work. It’s a question I determine to ask her.
CMcK: Hi Lorraine – thanks for joining my book blog. You began writing for children just over a decade ago. Tell me a bit about your life before then.
LJ: Wow, where has the time gone? Before picking up my pencil, I was more familiar with wearing my hard hat, doing inspections at construction sites and donning a uniform and being a volunteer first aid officer at the weekend during public events. I wore many hats through my career: trainer, advisor, inspector, advocate, guest speaker and implementer. My areas of expertise were in childcare, social care, accident management and triage and Health and Safety: jobs where I was always responsible for the wellbeing of others.
CMcK: You had a life-changing event which was a turning point for you. What happened?
LJ: We all receive gifts from time to time, that, well, aren’t our cup of tea. On my 40th birthday, I got an early morning eye twitch, that developed into complex symptoms that I suspected were neurological. By the time we were having a special birthday dinner, I knew that it was the first day of a different life and that something serious was unfolding. I was soon diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A most unwelcomed gift for a 40th birthday.
CMcK: Indeed! You supported charities during your working life, financially and through practical volunteering. Your diagnosis changed that. It could have robbed you of it. You made sure it didn’t. Why is writing so important to you?
LJ: Having MS is the hardest thing I’ve had to learn to live with. It grounded me, literally. Losing my career and active lifestyle to a very sedentary and painful one, that cruelly allows plenty of time to fester. It was important that I adapted my expectations accordingly. My mobility, concentration and constant neuropathic pain is truly debilitating. I see my options as having two choices. Concentrate on all the negatives and rue the activities I cannot do or do the best with what I CAN do. Writing has allowed me to avoid festering. It makes me feel like I am being useful by supporting the charities through my books. It gives me a sense of purpose, and everyone needs that. It’s also such tremendous fun.
CMcK: My grandchildren loved Whit of Whiteleys Wood, and the ‘gator in Later Tartan Gator. I know for sure they’re going to adore MacMoley. Where does your inspiration for these stories – for these loveable characters – come from?
LJ: Having worked in childcare for 13 years and being such a child at heart, my imagination was always full of ideas. I was taking pain medication for years that dampened the pain a little but dampened my clarity of thoughts and drive, even more. Before I wrote Whit of Whiteleys Wood, I was having such problems with the nasty side-effects of the medication, that I decided to come off them. The result is, I’m in more pain however, I feel more like my old self. Ideas are constantly popping in and out and I just have to be careful to use a few minutes here and there, to write them down. I can’t stand for very long. I can’t walk for very far. I can’t sit for too long. So my new life is scheduled around moving when I can, writing when I can and staying as healthy and independent for as long as I can.
LJ: I’m a bit uncomfortable with being called ‘inspirational’ which does seem to come up quite a lot. And here is why: when I was a working mum, in a full-time career and did some voluntary work once or twice a month, during the weekends, I also gave a little of my salary to charity via direct debit, however, no one needed to know. I didn’t shout it from the rooftops. It’s just something I’ve always done since I worked my first job. Now that I write, you have to shout about it and ‘show off’ your latest project, otherwise you won’t sell any books and raise awareness or donations for your chosen charities. This oxymoron of mixed feelings about just helping out quietly without fuss and making a lovely huge fuss about a children’s book, is still new territory for me. As for writing my life story, I better do things that are worth reading about first, and I’m still very much trying to ‘write a happier ending’ to my own story so far, through my children’s stories.
CMcK: Do you have any plans in foot for more children’s books that you can tell us about?
LJ: Oh my goodness yes. The less mobile I become as the MS progresses, the more stories I will have to write. I have loads and feel like the lid of my imagination has been opened. After ‘MacMoley Moves Home’, will be ‘Walter’s Wonky Web’ and I also have a ‘big book project’ which I can’t discuss, which is hugely exciting.
CMcK: Something for us to look forward to! Thanks for coming on the blog and telling us about your writing motivation and journey.
You can read more about Lorraine’s books on her website where there are links to buy direct.
Follow her on Twitter @WriterLorraineJ
Lorraine described her diagnosis and journey forward very movingly in a recent post for the website Alliance which you can read here.